Picture this: It’s 5:00pm and you’ve yet to think about what you’re having for dinner that evening. If you have a family of picky eaters to feed and you’re trying to lose or maintain a healthy weight, it can be hard to pull together a balanced, nutritious meal on the fly.
“Think the “Take 5″ way,” said Robin Miller, host of the Food Network’s Quick Fix Meals and author of Robin Takes 5. “Carefully select five key, flavorful ingredients and you’ll need little else to pull a great meal together.”
Miller’s favorite standby pantry ingredients include oil-packed sundried tomatoes (drain away the oil and save the wonderful, tomato-infused oil for sautéing chicken and vegetables another night), marinated artichoke hearts (save the marinade for home-made dressings and marinades), jarred roasted red peppers, capers and stuffed olives. “Strong cheeses (such as blue, goat, feta, smoked Gouda, Parmesan) are great because a little goes a long way,” said Miller. “Toasted nuts (almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, pecans) add flavor, crunch and protein.”
In case you frequently feel overwhelmed by the high calorie, sodium and sugar content in many prepackaged convenience foods, Miller offers tips to take the intimidation out of cooking meals with fewer ingredients.
Take some time to track down the healthier, semi-prepared options, often in the produce aisle or refrigerated section of the grocery store.
“Stock up on pesto, chutney, salsa, guacamole, sliced and shredded vegetables (mushrooms, cabbage, shredded carrots) and florets of broccoli and cauliflower,” said Miller. “These can be quickly incorporated into any sauce, sauté, stir-fry, stew or soup, or used as a topping for a quick-homemade pizza, such as nicoise pizza.”
“Fresh herbs do wonders to brighten up any fast meal, even something as simple as grilled chicken or fish,” said Miller.
Just prior to serving, add fresh mint and/or cilantro to Asian, Indian and Mexican dishes. Basil and parsley complement Mediterranean-inspired dishes while fresh thyme and oregano are perfect for fish, chicken and pork. Sage has a strong flavor that stands up well to pork or turkey.
Keep an eye on sodium.
The average American consumes up to 4,000 mg of sodium per day, instead of the recommended 2,300 mg. Sodium, which hides in processed foods, can cause hypertension, which can lead to heart attacks, strokes, heart failure and kidney failure. Since 1 in 3 adults (that’s 75 million) already has hypertension and an additional 50 million are on their way with pre-hypertension, we need to take this seriously.
“I don’t recommend “low sodium” diets unless they’re prescribed by a doctor, but I also don’t use a heavy hand with [salt],” said Miller. “Recipes [should] taste good because of the ingredients used, not the salt shaker.”
When you use fresh, seasonal ingredients your food will taste good enough without added seasoning. Miller’s beet and apple salad is a perfect lunch or dinner salad if you want to keep your meal under 300 mg sodium.
Don’t let holidays derail your meal plan.
If you like to indulge in holiday treats that you only eat once or twice a year, Miller encourages it. “It’s much easier to stick to your healthy eating plan when you know a decadent party is just around the corner. ”
While you can make a lighter version of a classic favorite like chocolate mousse, don’t feel bad if you plan to indulge in foods that you might not normally eat on a diet. “Keep that in mind each day and decide which foods you plan to enjoy first,” Miller said. “At a holiday party, enjoy small bites of any and all food you want to try. I don’t believe in any deprivation because it always backfires. If you overdo it, start the next day fresh with no regrets and it’ll balance out.”